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Key Leadership Practices from The Leadership Challenge

By Carol Piras, Managing Partner, The Piras Group

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Jim Kouzes, Ph.D., recently presented highlights of The Leadership Challenge, latest edition covering the latest research on the impact of leader behavior on employee engagement.

Kouzes and Barry Posner, authors of the book The Leadership Challenge, (now in its 5th edition), have been thought leaders in Leadership Development for 30 years and are well known for their work with over 3 million respondents in 72 countries.

Remarkably, according to Kouzes’ latest research, when leaders demonstrate great leadership, specifically the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership, they positively impact their organizations – not only in increased commitment and productivity, but in net income (841%) and stock price growth (204%).

Modeling the Way

Two leadership practices stand out from the perspective of a leadership coach. They are “Modeling the way” and “Enabling Others”. Both of these practices received high scores for impacting engagement when leaders used them frequently.  Modeling the Way is about building credibility, a critical factor in establishing trust. According to Kouzes, “if you don’t believe in the messenger, you won’t believe the message”. In simple terms it means do what you say you will do. Leaders must be consistent in messages and actions.

Kouzes’ research indicates that commitment increases when employees are clear about the organization’s values as well as their own.  Employees who are clear and know what is important to them know how to make a difference in their organizations.

The next question is:  how do we learn about employee values? How do we teach leaders to use deep listening skills and demonstrate genuine interest in the people who work for them? This requires a slowing down from task and a refocus on the people who work for you.  If you don’t know what motivates an employee, how engaged they feel, how connected their work is to the organization’s purpose, you have lost an opportunity to create a personal connection and to help your employees feel that their work counts and that you care about them as human beings.

 Kouzes’s research suggests that leaders need to do both…communicate their values and know the values of their constituents to build high performing organizations.

Enabling Others to Act

When leaders use this leader practice, Enabling Others to Act, engagement increases by 40%. This practice is about building trust and developing competence in others. Kouzes reports that leaders need to listen “with both head and heart to what is important to people and only then can they IMPROVE”. Creating environments of trust and respect foster collaboration and result in high spirited teams.  Leaders who use this behavior frequently, are 60% more effective. He found that most leaders do not model this leadership practice regularly in their organizations. 

Where to start…saying “Yes” to leadership.

How do leaders put these practices in place in their organizations?  First they need to say “yes” to investing time in their own development. Becoming more self-aware and conscious of how your behavior impacts others is important. Emotional intelligence is fast becoming a “must have” leadership skill.  It’s not ok to say “I’ll get to development tomorrow”.  A good leader balances the “what” in the organization with the “how” work is accomplished.  The “how” includes developing self and others, communicating and listening, coaching, setting expectations, and inspiring others through personal effectiveness.  We’ve found these less tangible focus areas to be hard for strong technical leaders as they are more amorphous and take longer than say, finishing a product release.  When a leader moves from managing tasks to managing managers, a true shift occurs in where that leader spends his/her time.

Kouzes suggests daily progress…  “everyday make a small difference”  and… be sure to get feedback from a coach! We prefer using the words “crisp baby steps” (BJ Fogg, Stanford University) when suggesting behavior change to clients.  Small steps, taken over time, consciously and with intention, can yield much greater results than imagined.

Kouzes and Posner continue to contribute terrific insights to developing leadership in organizations that goes along with leadership in technology.


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